'Best Hope At Sustainable Fisheries' Short-changed By Conservation Efforts, Researchers Argue
Small scale fisheries produce as much annual catch for human consumption and use less than one-eighth the fuel as their industrial counterparts, but they are dealt a double-whammy by well-intentioned eco-labelling initiatives and ill-conceived fuel subsidies, according to a University of British Columbia study.
Small-scale fisheries are characterized as fishers operating in boats 15 metres or shorter.
â€œThey are our best hope at sustainable fisheries,â€ says Daniel Pauly, Director of the UBC Fisheries Centre and co-author of a study published in the current issue of the journal Conservation Biology.
The study shows the amount of subsides large-scale, industrial fisheries receive versus small-scale, coastal fisheries. For instance, the average large-scale fisherman receives nearly 200 times the fuel subsidy that the average small-scale fisherman receives.
â€œThis is because small scale fisheries employ more than 12 million people world-wide, compared to half a million in the industrial sector,â€ says Jennifer Jacquet, study co-author and a PhD Candidate in the UBC Fisheries Centre. â€œAnd because small-scale fisheries use less fuel to catch fish.â€
â€œSmall-scale fisheries use fishing gear that are more selective and far less destructive to deep sea environments,â€ says Jacquet. â€œAs a result they discard very little unwanted fish and almost all of their catch is used for human consumption.â€
Large-scale fisheries, on the other hand, typically do not target species for direct human consumption and discard an estimated 8-20 million tonnes of unwanted dead fish each year and reduces another 35 million tonnes of their annual catch to fishmeal.
Over the past decade, market-based sustainable seafood initiatives such as eco-labelling have been the predominant strategy for curtailing demand of dwindling fish stocks. The U.S. conservation community alone invested $37 million between 1999 to 2004 to promote certification and â€œwallet cardsâ€ to encourage consumers to purchase seafood caught using sustainable practices.
â€œFor the amount of resources invested, we havenâ€™t seen significant decrease in demand for species for which the global stocks are on the edge of collapse,â€ says Pauly. â€œMarket-based initiatives, while well-intentioned, unduly discriminate against small scale fishers for their lack of resources to provide data for certification.â€
Furthermore, small fishers simply canâ€™t compete on the open market with large fleets. Rashid Sumaila, also of the UBC Fisheries Centre, estimates that governments worldwide subsidize $30-34 billion a year in fishing operations, of which $25-27 billion go to large-scale fleets.
â€œItâ€™s an unfair disadvantage that in any other industry would have had people up in arms,â€ says Jacquet. â€œBut small-scale fishers are often in developing countries and have very little political influence.â€
Pauly and Jaquet say eliminating government subsidies is the most effective strategy towards significantly reducing pressure on vulnerable global fish stocks.
â€œWithout subsidies, most large-scale fishing operations will be economically unviable,â€ says Jacquet. â€œSmall scale fishers will have a better chance of thriving in local markets, and global fish stocks will have an opportunity to rebound.â€